THE OFFICE: THE COMPLETE SERIES – DVD review

It seems incredible now that “The Office” was first viewed as a risky proposition in its first season. 9 seasons and 201 episodes later, it stands as one of the great TV comedies, daring and hilarious, a brilliantly funny exploration of life and love in a not-so skewed version of corporate America.

A fitting celebration of a true landmark, Universal has released “The Office: The Complete Series” on DVD. In addition to every episode, the box set of 38 discs comes complete with a trove of extras that should satisfy even the most die-hard fans. To trace the arc of the show, from its edgy beginnings, through its mid-years peak as a warmer but still unpredictable comedy, to its fitting conclusion nine seasons later, is a deeply rewarding experience.

While the show was always a full ensemble show, expertly cast and written for even the most secondary characters, Steve Carell’s performance as Michael Scott is the center pivot that makes the whole thing work. Walking a difficult line between off-putting and off-center, Carell’s work over the course of seven seasons is a marvel of invention and arcing development, taking the spiky roots of Ricky Gervais’s British original and spinning off in whole new directions. It is truly legendary stuff, and the fact that he never won the Emmy for best actor is a mystery that defies solution.

One can feel the loss of that pivot in the last two seasons, when Carell left the show to focus on feature films. There’s still lots to enjoy in seasons 8 and 9 (James Spader as the new boss is particularly good), but the strain of covering Carell’s departure shows in a certain low-key desperation, and plot lines that don’t always pay off.

But this is a small, small complaint, a stapler in jello weighed against a warehouse of fantastic character work and some of the best writing of its time. The Marathon for Rabies Awareness, the wedding at Niagara Falls, the Schrute farm B & B, Michael Scott as Survivor Man, “Threat Level Midnight.” It’s all here, and its almost all worth viewing repeatedly. Dig in and enjoy.

Video:
The DVD set is presented in Anamorphic Widescreen in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio. Picture quality is excellent for the individual episodes, though some of the extras are a little rougher. There are options for English SDH and Spanish subtitling.

Audio:
The audio track is a serviceable Dolby Digital 2.0 for the first season, and shifts to a better Dolby Digital 5.1 for the remainder of the run.

Extras:
Plethora is the applicable term here, with extras spread across every disc:

  • Over 15 hours of deleted scenes. I sampled a portion of these, and they are uniformly funny, not the usual “ I see why they cut this” stuff.
  • Extended episodes
  • A large number of episode commentaries, including the pilot, with a variety of cast and crew
  • Blooper and gag reels that are worth a look, especially after seeing the season they’re tied to.
  • the original uncensored digital short, and webisodes
  • a Steve Carell interview, about his work on the show
  • “Rabies: The More You Know” short film
  • a clutch of shorts, including fake PSAs, Michael Scott’s Dunder Mifflin ad, a writer’s panel, interviews with the cast at an Academy of Television Arts and Sciences panel (hosted by Andy Dick), and promo films
  • the Dwight Schrute music video (Rainn Wilson in fine form)
  • an uninterrupted version of Michael Scott’s home-made action movie “Threat Level Midnight”
  • a very interesting set of original cast audition tapes
  • footage of the series finale table read and cast farewells

Parting thoughts:
It really doesn’t get much better than this (“that’s what she said”). Stellar acting and writing, and the best cold openings in the history of television.

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